I love to grow and use herbs, and one of my favorites is mint. Mint gets a bad rap because it spreads aggressively, and it's hard to get rid of it once it takes over your garden. It isn't alone, there is a long list of favorite garden plants that will do the same thing. You just have to know how to handle them, so let's
talk about that first.
There are two types of plants that tend to deposit themselves all around your garden. One type multiplies from seed blown by the wind, and the other sends out stolons (runners), which easily take root and form a new plant. Mint is the second type. That means all you have to do is learn how to corral it. The easiest way
is to keep it in a container of some sort. I have mine in a box, as I hope you can see in the picture. I keep it cut back pretty short. Sometimes it tries to creep out over the edge, but I simply cut it back. Mint is definitely an escape artist. If it creeps over the edge of its container, and lies on the ground, the
runner will quickly develop roots.
Garden mint is extremely easy to grow. It likes sun and moist soil, but will grow just about anywhere. Mint, (Mentha), is native to the Mediterranean region, but spread all through Europe in very early times. It was not only used for flavoring food, it also was used medicinally for many ailments. Most likely the
colonists brought it with them to America because it is so useful.
You can always tell a member of the mint family by its square stem. Generally, if you take a stem of any plant and slice across it, it will be round. If you do the same to a mint stem, you will see it is square.
Mint is very hardy, (down to zone 3). My mint has grown in the same shallow box with no winter protection for years through some of the coldest winters we've seen, and it greens right up again in the spring. Again, I cut it on a regular basis, so it never has a chance to flower or seed.
There are many different varieties of mint. Of course, everyone is familiar with peppermint, (Mentha piperita), and spearmint, (Mentha spicata). I grow chocolate mint which is a cultivar of peppermint. It doesn't really taste like chocolate to me, I just like the name. I also grow chocolate sedum, chocolate Joe Pye
weed, white chocolate crape myrtle, and chocolate covered cherries coleus. Are you beginning to see a trend here?
If you like to have fresh mint year-round, you can grow it in the house in a sunny window, however, some varieties will become leggy indoors. Apple mint is a recommended variety for indoor growing because it does not seem to require as much sunlight. In my opinion, the absolute best tasting mint is Mojito Mint. It is
also a very attractive plant.
Mint is good with food in so many ways. There are hundreds of mint recipes available on line using mint in everything from appetizers to salads to main dishes to dessert. And don't forget your mint julep, or, of course, a nice cold mojito on a hot summer day!
Mint serves up lots of flavor, so is good for people who need to cut back on salt intake.
Like all herbs, mint is packed with nutrition. Fill a pitcher with ice water, then add some mint leaves and lemon slices. So refreshing! It's a great nutritious, and almost-no-calorie substitute for sugary drinks. Mint is even surprisingly yummy just added to a tossed salad.
Did you say you don't like spraying chemicals on your body to protect yourself from bug bites? Take a handful of mint leaves and roll them between your hands to crush them, then rub them over your skin. The mint repels bugs, and smells wonderful.
Our native counterpart to Mentha is Pycnanthemum, commonly known as Mountain Mint. It was widely used by the American Indians, and is still used in alternative medicine today as a treatment for indigestion, colic, sore gums and smelling salts among other things.
Pycnanthemum is a large, attractive plant which makes a welcome addition to native gardens and rain gardens. If you are a native plant enthusiast, you may want to check it out.
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